Margaret Cho on The Wrestler and Wrestling and Youth and S&M and Violence

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Watching The Wrestler on the plane made me stop and remember that at one time, I actually considered this as a career.

As a teenager, I remember answering a vague and carefully worded ad in the Bay Guardian. “Female wrestlers wanted for video. Eighteen to twenty-five. Age verification required. No nudity. Non-sexual. $125 paid per match.” It seemed like an extraordinary amount of money to get beat up, and I had a fake ID.

Comedy hadn’t taken off yet for me, and so I tried to get as many jobs as possible. Wrestling seemed like it would be easy.

I was already working at Stormy Leather, at the time a very thrilling BDSM company catering almost exclusively to leatherdykes. I watched people get beat all the time. It didn’t seem so terrible. In fact, they seemed to really love it.

Also, growing up Korean, I had a lifetime of beatings under my belt already. My family didn’t believe in sparing rods, belts, fists, teeth, headlocks, kicks to the stomach. Where I was raised, it was believed a dead child is better than a spoiled child. All is forgiven now, but only through many, many years of therapy. Forcing many, many relatives and family friends to relate all their crimes in front of white female therapists, putting their confessions on tape, like my own personal government internal investigation. My very own day of reckoning. My own personal Amnesty International. I love that I got to do this, and they could do nothing about it. I love that I made them tell the truth. I loved being a strong adult who never forgot, and I never let them forget either. They weren’t guilty of waterboarding. At least I can say that for them. My parents and grandparents tried to intervene at points, but basically, if you grew up a Korean girl in the 60s, 70s and 80s, it’s a miracle you lived. I have always found Korean culture to be brutal, especially in the way they raise their children. It may be why I don’t want to have children myself. I fear the Korean disciplinarian in me, this monster that lies dormant until awoken by the cry of a child.

I remember one Sunday school teacher in particular, who became unhinged by her unruly classroom, and forced all the children to hold their arms up in the air for more than the Geneva convention would allow. If that doesn’t sound bad to you, then try it yourself. Reach your arms up above your head and keep them there. First your shoulders will tire and droop and beg you to free them. Then your arms to your elbows will tingle in a horrifying way. Your back will ache unbearably. You start to lose feeling in your hands, and become drained of blood and turn a cadaverous bluish grey, the pins and needles feeling more like metal spikes and shards of glass. Then you will feel nothing but a slow and creeping fear that you will lose your limbs, like the more they are denied the flow of blood from gravity’s refusal to let go, each finger will decide to die, on its own. Alone. No longer connected by the unifying grip of circulation. No longer connected to you. The Sunday school teacher finally let our arms down, but the hatred of her and all authority figures, especially ones of my own tribe, took root in me, and I feel it grow just a little, every time I hear of a helpless child or animal who is cruelly mistreated.

My arms may be down, but my dukes will be forever up. I was a bad kid too, so I was spared nothing. I stopped going to my particular church because of being punched in the face, kicked in the belly so hard so I would vomit uncontrollably. All this violence merely for the discovery of cigarettes in my school bag. I believe I had a horrendous time quitting smoking as an adult because the right to smoke them in the first place was so hard won. So having survived a lifetime of abuse, I thought being a wrestler wouldn’t be so bad. When you have had your head bashed up against a mirror so many times the mirror shattered into a thousand reflected images of you almost drowning in your own blood, nothing seems so bad. Rough S&M sex, it’s a walk in the park. And I could take anyone, on the mat. Or off. Don’t try me. the wrestling promoters never called me back. I guess they had enough girls.

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Visit Margaret Cho’s website.


Margaret Cho was the recipient of the first ever Best Comedy Performance award at the 2007 Asian Excellence Awards. She also recently received the First Amendment Award from the ACLU of Southern California, and the Intrepid Award from the National Organization for Women (NOW). She has also been honored by GLAAD, American Women in Radio and Television, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and PFLAG for "making a significant difference in promoting equal rights for all, regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender identity. More from this author →